Child Employment Prospects in Nineteenth-Century Hertfordshire in Perspective : Varieties of Childhood?
Hugh Cunningham’s work has emphasized both the lack of employment opportunities for children and also its intense regional concentration in the mid 19th century, notably in Cheshire, Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire, as well as a surprisingly strong showing in some more southerly agricultural counties—notably Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. From analysis of the 1851 Census Enumerators’ Books for the entire county (c. 167,000 records) this paper draws attention to the significance of child labour in Hertfordshire. It reveals levels of child employment hitherto unreported, but also finds a highly localized child labour market, creating markedly different circumstances for both children and families in different parts of a county which extended to a mere 632 square miles. These local and regional variations could have profound implications, impacting demographically, educationally, economically as well as socially, implications that extend well beyond the personal experience of the children concerned. It is suggested that Hertfordshire forms only one small sub-set of a larger picture, and the wider remit of this chapter is to consider the broader range of factors that impacted upon child employment in the second half of the 19th century, including the rapid changes that occurred across the third quarter of the century, and it will be suggested that the Victorian era—possibly more than any period before or since—exhibited such a diversity of experience that it is more appropriate to think in terms of ‘varieties of childhood’ than it is to think in terms of a homogenous childhood experience.